The Best South Asian Films of 2020

In a year without theaters, films from the subcontinent and its diaspora still thrived.

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Siddhant Adlakha


December 22, 2020


19 min

COVID-19 was the most inescapable news story of the year, and a key facet was its impact on entertainment. The more major film releases got pushed back, the longer the ordeal began to feel; eventually, what did or didn’t make it to our screens became another barometer of the pandemic and its impact on normalcy. News about movies became, for many of us, what the movies themselves had been before theaters shut down: a spoonful of sugar.

Cinema as a business and art form was forced to adapt, for better and for worse. Studios began sending their movies straight to streaming — a decision that benefits viewers in isolation, though it could harm theaters in the long run. Meanwhile, global film festivals moved online. Mumbai Film Festival teamed up with other major fests — Cannes, TIFF, Berlin, and several others — for We Are One: A Global Film Festival in May. The KASHISH festival put its entire slate online. Streaming releases and online film festivals provided a ray of hope that even though we couldn’t go to the movies, the movies could still come to us — nearly every film on this list played at one or more of these events.

These ten films represent five countries and ten languages (including Indo-Pakistani Sign Language). While no one list can represent the totality of the “South Asian experience” — a category so varied as to render this label redundant — the films here are borne from diverse perspectives and styles, running the gamut from animated short to queer period drama to the avant-garde. Four have been submitted for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards (though Funny Boy was disqualified for having too much English-language dialogue). Each work encompasses immense artistic talent that doesn’t often get its due.

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